The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, February 13, 2009

CSC pushes for superintendency union soon

Discussion remained amicable but the temperature was warm in the crowded Heald Room on February 9 as the Finance Committee (FinCom) invitees, the Carlisle School Committee (CSC), Superintendent Marie Doyle, and Board of Selectmen (BOS) aired their differing opinions on moving ahead quickly with an administrative union for the Carlisle School.

The proposal is to pay the Concord School District to perform functions now done by the Carlisle school superintendent, special education administrator, technology administrator and business manager. Preliminary estimates were cited indicating up to $800,000 gross per year may be saved, which after the savings are shared with Concord may provide up to $450,000 net savings per year to Carlisle.

A consultant has been chosen to evaluate the financial and educational issues and to make a recommendation, reported the CSC’s Louis Salemy. The CSC has not announced its selection or met with the chosen consultant, so timeframes have not been established. However, said Salemy, if the recommendation is positive and is delivered in March or early April, the Concord and Carlisle School Committees could reach an agreement and declare the union a done deal for the 2009-2010 school year.

Selectmen caution “Take your time”

Selectmen Doug Stevenson and Tim Hult were quite concerned with that timeframe. “This is a decision of very significant magnitude and one or two months seems very, very aggressive,” said Stevenson. Responding to FinCom Chair Dave Model’s comment that the decision should be “data-driven,” Stevenson added, “This isn’t a data-driven decision. It’s a significant change in the educational institution in town.” He noted that stakeholders such as parents and taxpayers have a right to weigh in, and that to charge ahead without that input “is way overstepping.”

Size of impact debated

Added Hult, “This goes to the essence of what the town is.” But the CSC’s Dale Ryder countered, “Members of the School Committee would disagree with that. What makes the school special won’t change that much.”

“You’re talking about the educational leadership of the school,” said Hult. “There’s strong opinion (about the issue) and we’re way out ahead of those people. Can we bring them up in a month and a half?” He suggested, “I would take some time. I wouldn’t rush. If it takes a year, it takes a year.” Ryder agreed that building consensus will be important.

CSC member Wendell Sykes cautioned that there will be many changes, “(Concord and Carlisle) are very different systems,” he said. “The role of the principal in Concord is different from the role in Carlisle” and the current Carlisle principals may not seamlessly step into new responsibilities without time to prepare. He also questioned the $450,000 cost savings, noting that some administrative budget support should be retained in Carlisle. Otherwise, he asked, “Will Carlisle have any real influence over the budgetary process?”

Effects on education?

Hult added, “The finances are the easy part” but educational decision-making could be more difficult. “What happens when we disagree with a decision by the Concord superintendent?” he asked. CSC Chair Chad Koski said that it would not be much different from disagreeing with the current administration. “But we don’t control [Concord’s] administration,” responded Hult.

Barbara Bjornson of the FinCom wondered if a close look at the impact on special education would be part of the consultant’s study. She noted the philosophy of Carlisle is different from Concord’s and encourages more inclusion. As a result, Carlisle out-places a smaller percentage of special education students. Would this change? Doyle confirmed that the percentage of students outplaced in Concord is 20% higher than in Carlisle, and Bill Fink raised the concern that adopting Concord’s methods could result in higher costs. “We need to look at quality of education and costs and make sure we’re doing the right thing.”

Response to financial pinch

The superintendency union decision could be put off indefinitely, Koski observed, but “If we don’t cut administration we must cut teachers. The money’s going to have to come from somewhere.” Salemy said the union proposal arose as a response to the town’s need for $800,000 per year as the Carlisle high school population rises, starting in FY11. Without some plan, Salemy said, the budget for teachers at CPS could be reduced by 25% in three years. Hult questioned Salemy’s math, and observed that a radical change should not be made for a problem that goes away in a few years, “That’s crazy.”

“If someone could tell me how to raise $800,000, I’d feel much better about the Carlisle School system,” said Salemy.

“I’m in favor of reducing cost structurally,” said Model, noting that the high school bulge is just one of the financial issues facing the town, with school buildings close behind. “It’s not fair to ask for a long-term fix to a short-term problem, but this would be a long-term fix to a long-term problem.”

The FinCom’s Thornton Ash suggested that a subcommittee work in parallel with the CSC to come up with an alternative cost-cutting and revenue-raising plan in case the union does not work out. Hult noted tighter financial management will probably be needed anyway. “This won’t fix the whole problem.”

Consultant report this spring

Salemy said a meeting with the consultant will be held on February 27 and Fink observed that nothing can move forward until the consultant reports. “We’re in the process of trying to get the right information,” and if the cost-savings are low, the CSC will drop the idea for a union. But providing information to the town will be hard until that report is in hand, said Fink.

FinCom member Dave Verrill suggested that while the town waits for the report, a plan for public information and administrative transitioning should be formulated. It will be important to manage the change smoothly, he said, so information changes hands before people move on.

Doyle noted that her contract expires in June 2010. A principal, the special education director and business manager have contracts that expire in June 2009 and the second principal’s contract goes until 2011. It may be possible to retain people on one-year contracts if the union does not take place until next year, she said. Finance Director Larry Barton expressed concern that people may leave anyway if the process is lengthened, though educational lay-offs throughout the state could make that less likely. “What’s making people nervous is the unknown,” said Doyle, urging the committees to come to an agreement on a transition plan soon.

Verrill noted that the consultant study, developed for $10,000 over a couple weeks, will answer only the broadest questions and will not be an intensive study of all the possible concerns. Stevenson wondered who will be assembling questions for the consultant and doing the footwork of checking out other communities that have gone through a school union.

Koski seemed to believe further work was unnecessary. “We have no intention of going to Dover or Sherborne,” two towns that united 15 years ago. He expects the Concord and Carlisle administrations to be able to direct the consultant and anticipates the two School Committees will have sufficient information to make a decision.

The CSC was thanked several times for taking the initiative on cutting costs for the town. “I applaud the School Committee for coming forward and being proactive,” said Town Administrator Madonna McKenzie. Inspired by the example, Town Hall will also be looking at “combining some functions and changing to still deliver the same services more cost-effectively,” she said. ∆

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito